Various Artists

The Jazz Singers 1919-1994

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The compilers of this five-CD/cassette box set anthology, which contains 104 tracks and runs over six hours, have taken an inclusive, open-ended approach to both their selections and their sequencing. Unconventionally, the album is organized not chronologically, but thematically, in eight categories -- "Steeped in the Blues," Straight out of Church," "Let's Have a Party," "Swinging the Songbook," "After Hours: Slow-Dancing and Torching the Songbook," "Jazz Compositions," and "Novelties and Take-Offs" (in other words, blues, gospel, dance, standards, slow standards, scatting and vocalese, and other). Annotator Robert G. O'Meally is quick to acknowledge that the categories are slippery, however, and to invite the listener to re-arrange the sequencing as he sees fit, a suggestion some may not appreciate. The sequencing is roughly chronological within the categories, but since they do not correspond to CD or cassette sides, it is easy for a pristine 1993 recording to be followed by a sonically challenged 1937 one as you go from one category to another. It isn't consistently comprehensible from a strictly auditory perspective, but it allows the compilers occasional felicitous and instructional juxtapositions. Many of the performers are obvious choices, among them Holiday (seven selections), Ella Fitzgerald (five), and Louis Armstrong (eight), but there are also some surprising names (Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and Al Green) as well as some surprising omissions (Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, and Lee Wiley). Most of the selections are standard studio takes, and the compilers have avoided many choices one would expect to appear on any compilation of jazz singing: there is no "Lady, Be Good" by Ella Fitzgerald, for example, and Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit" is a live take from Clef Records, not the studio version from Commodore. All of this is to say, however, that The Jazz Singers is deliberately intended as an introductory sampler of vocal jazz, not as a final statement. That's fair enough, though buyers of an expensive box set from the Smithsonian might be expecting something definitive rather than merely representative.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 3:09
2 2:59
3 2:52
4 3:10
5 3:19
6 4:08
7 2:40
8 3:28
9 3:17
10 3:11
11 4:09
12 3:27
13 2:56
14 4:53
15 3:09
16 2:14
17 2:36
18 3:28
19 3:20
20 2:38
21 3:09

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 3:06
2 3:02
3 2:52
4 2:57
5 2:46
6 2:55
7 4:08
8 3:07
9 3:26
10 3:16
11 3:09
12 3:01
13 4:12
14 4:59
15 3:57
16 4:47
17 2:30
18 6:17
19 2:15
20 3:00

Track Listing - Disc 3

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:13
2 4:04
3 4:18
4 3:47
5 3:10
6 3:23
7 3:06
8 3:16
9 3:14
10 2:55
11 3:23
12 4:00
13 2:46
14 2:41
15 3:40
16 2:42
17 2:46
18 2:45
19 2:30
20 5:27
21 3:26

Track Listing - Disc 5

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 2:44
2 2:56
3 6:00
4 2:48
5 5:05
6 2:10
7 3:17
8 2:30
9 2:51
10 3:03
11 5:15
12 3:02
13 3:03
14 3:18
15 2:52
16 3:30
17 2:58
18 6:25
19 3:26
20 2:00
21 3:31
blue highlight denotes track pick